Living Around Danger

by Chris Lautsbaugh on January 25, 2013

One of the biggest challenges of living and working in South Africa is the constant awareness of crime. Near the top of the list in violent crimes such as murder and rape, South Africa poses a bit a of a safety threat. Poverty drives muggings and home robberies. Very few nights pass when I do not look out my window to investigate some strange “noise”.

How do you deal with this in missions?
Where do I find peace as a husband and father?

The initial year was the most difficult in this aspect of culture shock. I found myself jumpy and suspicious, casting a watchful eye over each passerby. As the months rolled into years, I have adjusted, becoming “smart”; knowing more potentially dangerous situations. Now 7 years on, fear is not an issue. There remains an ever-present “alertness” which you never totally realize is happening till you leave the country.

Let me share a story of an incident which happened to our family:

One day we came home to find our home had been broken into. Breaking a window on a side door, the thieves quickly entered removing televisions, laptops, jewelry, and other items which had memories attached to them. They were good. The house was only vacant 45 minutes.

The initial response was mostly relief. They only took stuff. No one was home so no one was hurt.

Then the possible scenarios start to unfold

But what if….?
What if we came home in the middle of the robbery?
What if this happened when my wife was home alone?
What if they come back?

That’s when the fear comes. Insurance can replace items, but no one can replace a life of a loved one. The lingering affects are nightmares and heightened awareness. For days and weeks, we found ourselves hustling our valuables into a safe each time we left the house. Our kids felt unsafe for a period of time. Then anger comes…

There is an irony to this story.

The incident I just explained did not happen on South African soil. It was not in a violent third-world country.

The robbery our family experienced was on our recent visit to the United States while on furlough.

We live and work in statistically one of the most dangerous places on the planet, and we get robbed in small town America.

Crime is a reality on the mission field, but these things can happen anywhere. Fear does not limit itself to geography, it can happen on the home front.

We can take all the precautions we wish, but can never eliminate the risk. Sometimes, when we feel the safest, (I was not waking up at night looking out of windows in rural Washington State!), is when we are at the greatest risk.

The bottom line on crime, whether abroad or at home, peace comes through trusting God.

Crime is a real part of a missionary’s life.

But never let the potential of what might happen stop you from obeying and living overseas if you are called to. While not a guarantee of “health, wealth, and safety“, being where you are meant to be is the place you can sleep the best at night.

Peace comes when you place yourself and your loved ones in the hands of an all powerful God.

What are some other keys to peace in a difficult environment?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • One key for me is to put aside my preconceived notions of justice. I thought justice was a farce for foreigners in developing governments. That was naive. Injustice is everywhere. I have found that real justice can’t be found apart from God. With my cultural differences I may be able to see it easier here but it is there all along. If I concentrate on what I think needs to be “fixed” I will never be at peace with Him.

    We have experienced some crime in our time in the field and the subsequent mishandling of it by the “authorities” but I answer to a higher Authority. And, He gives me peace.

  • For me, in addition to the “high alert level” that can out you more on edge than you realize, it’s all the little crazy things that happen in life in mission that make feel like I could lose it. Like when it’s late and you are trying to get everyone bathed and into bed and one of the kids breaks the plastic water tube in the shower off inside the concrete wall. Really? It’s in these moments that the constant high stress level bubbles over and threatens to rob me of my peace. I try to retreat for a second in moments like this and grab hold to a small verse of Scripture or some thought about who God is to get me past the moment of breakdown until I move into action. Then I’m usually fine.

    • i find the same to be true for me… some days there are lots of straws breaking this mama camel’s back!

  • When I was preparing to move to South Africa, people were worried for me. I usually told them that it would be like living in the inner-city here in the States. But what I could never explain was the “on edge” feeling that you live with every day. I did have a home invasion, and it was serious and traumatic. However, I did survive. And to a certain extent the “on edge” feeling came back to the States with me. Regaining a sense of peace takes time and prayer and sometimes involves a lot of tears. I also think that it requires continuing to follow God, even when others think that should should stay in the States because it’s “safer.”

    • I can totally identify Laura. Hang in there- God does use time to heal. And I fully agree- obedience is key!

  • Korrin

    We have learned to listen less to “concerned” people’s comments and listen to God. Our heads were filled with fear when moving to Mexico – hearing every bad story you can imagine from well meaning people, but our hearts listened and obeyed our Father. We are from New Zealand – a beautiful and “safe” place but we have experience numerous break-ins in our home “safe” country and not so much here in Mexico. I don’t think we are promised safety, but someone once told me “the safest place is to be in the Fathers will” and I think I agree. Not because it is necessarily a safety net but when we are close to God, it is the best place to be.

    • Our concerned friends are well meaning, we need to remember that; but yes we must listen to God

    • i don’t like using the word “safe” because i’ve learned that God and i see safety quite differently and i can’t step out of my humanity to see it any other way. I really like how you used the word best!

  • we never worried about that sort of violence when we first arrived at our place of service. the local population here is just very laid back and quite peaceable (well… except for one tribal group) and not likely to become aggressive about anything, ever. things changed a few years ago. drug trade across the desert picked up. terrorist groups began coming into town and kidnapping expats for ransom to fund that drug trade. a bomb was buried on the street i drove carpool every day… and killed one of the men my husband knew professionally… and now, just recently, war is happening just up the road. troops are garrisoned north of town. attack helicopters and transports are flying up and down the river several times each day – i can watch them from my living room couch. national guard members with assault rifles patrol the streets around where i teach and my kids go to school where lock down drills are more frequent than they should be. we’re advised to have a good stock in the pantry, gas tanks always full with several gallons above that, barrels of water set aside just in case and a go bag with all essential items (including a malaria treatment for each member of the family) packed and ready to go… just in case. thankfully (that seems funny to say), this has all been happening gradually, over the last 6 or 7 years, and so we’ve slipped slowly into this ever present increasingly on edge state of mind where you stop to verify that strange noise on the street, you check discreetly out the windows whenever the dogs bark and you hold your breath when you hear loud noises in town.

    the craziest thing? my kids consider this normal and they feel tons more on edge when we return to the states and there aren’t visible gun-toting military out and about, regular drills at school, windows and doors don’t all have steel bars on them, yards are not surrounded by cement block walls topped with razor wire, you don’t have someone hired to sit and “guard” the entrance to your yard 24/7 etc.

    what seems normal and safe is definitely not a black and white standard…

  • Chris, I loved this post! Seriously– the fact that the robbery happened in the States was a good twist, for sure!

    I totally get this. Robbery is a big thing in Asia, and I remember the unsettling nature of thinking that your white skin made you a target automatically.

    Loved this truth: “being where you are meant to be is the place you can sleep the best at night.”

    Oh, gosh . . . that was a zinger.


  • Thank you for this article. We are in “deputation” for South Africa. God has called us to the Transkei. Over and over we are hearing from people in the city that the Transkei is so dangerous. And over and over from people in the Transkei we are hearing the cities are so dangerous. We’ve decided to hold on to a quote our mentor gave us. “The safest place is in God’s will”.

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  • Chrissy

    thank you for this.

    I am leaving for a semester to be in the inner city of Lima, Peru. I keep hearing how dangerous it is, and as a young girl that has been highly protected in a very safe neighborhood— I have had my moments of fear when I think about all the drugs and gang violence. Thanks for the reminder that safety isn’t always the best option.

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